Damming the Patuca

Monti Aguirre
The Patuca at Dawn
The Patuca at Dawn
Dr. Kendra McSweeney

In 1998, I traveled to Honduras at the request of representatives from the Tawhaka indigenous people, who live by the Patuca River. The planned Patuca II Dam, located near their lands, was threatening their livelihoods and lives. Villages would be flooded, and people would lose their fruit trees and crops, as well as access to forest resources, hunting areas and fish. Downstream, at the mouth of the river, rich areas of mangroves and lagunas abundant with shellfish would be lost, depriving Miskito indigenous and Afro-Honduran people of their main source of subsistence.

I soon met with several representatives of the Platform for the Defense of the Patuca River, which was created to stop the Patuca II Dam. The impressive platform comprised indigenous peoples, Afro-Hondurans, two different churches, a couple of mayors of towns, academics, journalists, and environmentalists. I don’t think that today, after the assassination of my dear friend and colleague Berta Cáceres, such a platform could survive without vindictive persecution.

Together, we successfully stopped the Patuca II Dam. The dam builders – US Harza Energy (today Montgomery Harza and then a major dam builder) and Panda Energy, a small US energy company – pulled out after Hurricane Mitch devastated the region and they felt the opposition of the local communities. A Honduran investing company led by the Facussei Group was the third party in the consortium to build Patuca II.

As happens all throughout Latin America, dam projects may be stopped, but the plans to build them continue. In 2007, the government of Honduras began plans for the construction of the Patuca III Dam, located upstream from where the planned Patuca II Dam was proposed.

In our new factsheet "Honduras: Patuca River and Communities under Threat," we explore the development of the Patuca III, or Piedras Amarillas Dam, which is expected to be finished by 2018. The project lacks comprehensive environmental studies and the resettlement plan is incomplete.

We will continue to provide updates on the development of this dam, which will be built by the Chinese company Sinohydro. In other parts of Latin America, we’ll continue working to develop and support national coalitions for river protection laws.

Thursday, June 30, 2016